Printed in Capital Press November 3rd, 2004 Issue:

View Images (PDF)

Feeding the thirst for dried flowers
By BRENNA WIEGAND Freelance Writer

MOUNT ANGEL, Ore. – Whenever holiday shoppers order a dried flower wreath from Williams and Sonoma, L.L. Bean, Crate and Barrel or 1-800-Flowers, chances are some of its components were grown near Mount Angel.

An experimental stab at growing a popular decorating item 17 years ago has become an international export business for Dan and Bernadette Hammelman of Hammelmans Dried Floral.

Dan farmed with his brother before he married Bernadette in the mid-1970s. Together they started growing strawberries and vegetables, and later they added grass seed production to their farming operation.  When they decided in 1987 to dedicate three or four acres to cut flowers, it was a modest risk taken with reasonable cause.

"Drieds were really popular then," Bernadette said of the flowers, greens and grasses most often seen in wreaths and "everlasting" bouquets.  "It never was a hobby of mine," she said. "People see a woman in the flower business and think it was a hobby gone wild."

That first year they hung the flowers up to dry in an abandoned chicken coop at the nearby farm of Dan’s parents, and they worked to create a market.  "I knocked on doors – Ben Franklin in Woodburn, the Portland Flower Market," Bernadette said. "By the second year people were finding us."  By the third year the Hammelmans realized if they were going to stay in business it was time to step up the drying process.  "It was a wet summer. Nothing dried," she said. "It was painful."

These days the flowers color 60 acres of the approximately 400 acres that make up Hammelman Farms.  They are processed faster and retain their vibrant color better, thanks to several large, heated, ventilated drying rooms that can accommodate two or three dozen racks at a time – each rack holding 200 bunches.

Dan is a "systems guy," Bernadette said. He designed the racks, which are hauled, train-like, behind a tractor as the flowers are cut in the field. He also built the drying rooms, processing lines and warehouse so she can focus on sales and service.

Between 30 and 40 types and colors of flowers are grown at Hammelmans Dried Floral, including celosia, also known as coxcomb; a growing number of hydrangea; and Bernadette’s current favorite, peonies.

The dried flowers are sorted, graded and boxed, proving they’re not nearly as fragile as many suppose.

While Bernadette said she has always had direct contact with her customers, the purchase two years ago of a Midwest distributing company has added an element – a different kind of customer – that she enjoys.  Knowing her components as she does makes it fun to help such customers select the right type of flower or greenery to enhance their particular product, be it a wreath, bouquet or other application.  "It’s a shift in direction I enjoy because I know my business, the company, the product," she said.

In addition to the products grown on the farm, the Hammelmans’ catalog includes a number of dried flowers, grasses, greens – dried artichokes and quince slices, even – along with basic components like pre-made wreaths and wire frames.  "They’re the raw components that let others express their creativity," Bernadette said. "You never know what kind of a use they’ll go into. That’s the fun thing about this newer aspect of the company – the customers are anxious to show me what they’re doing with the florals. That’s the human part of it for me; I like that."

Another human aspect they’re proud of: hiring local kids.  "We hire a lot of local teenagers in the summer with the flower business and for the pipe crew and farming," she said. "We feel real responsible for them. It’s a lot of effort to train them and be patient as they learn what work is, but on the other hand, many still stay in touch."

The kids may have returned to school, but the work goes on. This time of year approximately 150 cases of dried flowers are shipped out daily. UPS and Fed Ex are frequent callers at the farm.

Over the winter the Hammelmans plan to work on expanding their website, www.hammelmans.com, to make it more "user-friendly."
It’s all part of what farming is about these days, Bernadette said: being willing to follow a market where it leads; utilizing one’s resources and not turning down opportunities, even if they come from unexpected quarters and carry the possibility of not working out.  "For anybody to survive, you have to find a niche," she said. "You have to be able to look beyond the everyday way of thinking and be willing to look at something besides the traditional."

 

14477 Dominic Road NE, Mt. Angel, Oregon 97362  |  Phone: 800-884-4730  |  Fax: 503-845-9781